clouds were rolling in from the Gulf of Mexico, but there was still enough time
for the rookie skipper to take a spin on Tampa Bay in his new, $150,000
Wellcraft Scarab. The sleek powerboat looked as if it had just veered off the
set of Miami Vice, except for a paint job heavy on Buccaneer orange and white,
a big NO. 14 on the hull—and a far different kind of Miami hero at the
Johnson. Vinny Testaverde, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' designated savior, slowly
guided his 34-foot dreamboat away from the marina dock near downtown St.
Petersburg, studying the control panel and offering a cautious smile to a crew
of family members and friends. An instructor sat behind him to offer
moments Testaverde was in command, pounding the placid waters at 70 mph,
circling, darting, weaving and then, with a surprisingly gentle touch,
navigating the 840-horsepower craft back to port in time to beat the rain.
"What a great feeling," he said, a broad grin crossing his well-tanned
face. "I'm at the wheel of my own boat, with my own jersey number right on
it. I can't help but think of all the good things that have happened to
joyride may have sputtered on Jan. 2 in the Fiesta Bowl, where Perm State upset
the talented quarterback and his Miami Hurricanes to win the national
championship. But the past four months have been like a cruise through paradise
for the 23-year-old Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 pick in this year's NFL
draft. On April 2, Testaverde signed an $8.2 million, six-year contract with
Tampa Bay. Then, three days before the April 28 draft, in his hometown of
Elmont, N.Y., more than 5,000 residents and U.S. Senator Alfonse D'Amato turned
out for a parade in Testaverde's honor. A banner still hangs over Elmont's main
thoroughfare, proclaiming MAKING ELMONT PROUD: VINNY TESTAVERDE—1986 HEISMAN
His parents, Al
and Josie, drive around Elmont in style. Testaverde purchased a black Lincoln
Town Car for his dad and a gray Oldsmobile Ciera for his mother. "Hey, I
owe so much to them," he says. "The money is mostly theirs, anyway.
Without them I couldn't have gotten anything."
The rewards keep
pouring in. Testaverde recently received a lucrative endorsement contract with
GTE. Thanks to a deal with Chevrolet, he can tool around in a Corvette when he
tires of tooling around in his Jaguar. However, one of the biggest payoffs to
date didn't involve a nickel. The Beach Boys were in Tampa over the July 4th
weekend for a concert, and they got word to the Bucs that they wanted to meet
Testaverde. "I couldn't believe it," he says. "Here I am, having
grown up listening to these guys, and they want to meet me."
So Testaverde and
the aging surf singers got together at a hotel press conference the day before
the show. The next afternoon came the tour de force. Call it Testaverde's first
pressure performance at Tampa Stadium. Before 52,000 delighted fans the Beach
Boys summoned Testaverde to the stage to sing backup on their golden oldie
"That was one
of my favorite things ever in my life," he says. "They asked me at the
press conference if I'd go along with it. So my friends and I went to the
store, bought a Beach Boys tape and listened to it about 30 times. All I had to
do was sing one word, 'Ba-ba-ba, ba-ba-baraann.' But I have to admit, I'm not
much of a singer."
He doesn't quite
have sea legs either. But an endorsement deal with a bay area boat dealership
got Testaverde his customized Wellcraft. "It's still a little tricky taking
it out and docking, but I'm getting the hang of it," he says.
The $8.2 million
question, of course, is how the mega-Buc passer will fare at the wheel of a
franchise that has floundered through the last four NFL seasons with a combined
record of 12-52. Three times a playoff team between 1979 and 1982, once, in
January 1980, only 10 points from reaching the Super Bowl, the Buccaneers have
returned to the murky seas of their 2-26 expansion era. The situation has
gotten ugly: three 2-14 finishes since 1983, attendance nose-diving from
72,000-seat sellouts to lows of fewer than 30,000, paper bags covering the
heads of fans and an unsurpassed reputation for futility.